Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Just a Wall - Chapter Nine


Saturday morning I was wide awake and staring at the ceiling before sunrise, and I couldn’t fall back to sleep. The fact that I was able to fall asleep at all last night surprised me. I spent an hour last night trying to decide what to wear for my date. I don’t know if I was more excited to be seeing Peter or that this is going to be my first date. The latter is probably more likely because I barely know Peter. He’s good looking and I really like his smile. His hair is a medium brown, parted slightly to one side with a sweep of hair covering part of his forehead, and he has hazel eyes. I’m surprised that I had time to notice the color of his eyes during our short meeting. I assume he’s intelligent because Max always seems to have smart friends. Okay, still not sleepy, and thinking about Peter certainly isn’t going to help.

I put on my robe and slippers, and went out into the kitchen to make some toast. Everyone else was still sleeping. Father walked in just after my toast popped. “Did I wake you?”

He shook his head from side to side as he let out a big yawn. “No. I had a restless night and couldn’t get back to sleep again.” He's already dressed in his weekend attire, casual pants and a button-up shirt. “I’ll be right back,” he said. “I just want to run down to see if the newsstand has reopened and if there are any newspapers.”

He quietly closed the door as he left so as to not awaken anyone else. I sat at the table nibbling on my toast, staring off into space. I was startled a little while later when Father returned with a newspaper. It’s been a few weeks since he’s had a newspaper to read, and he was so excited that he forgot to be quiet as he dragged his chair out from the table to sit. “I’ll make you some coffee, Father.”

The smell of the coffee brought Mother and Max into the kitchen. Max noticed the newspaper immediately, grabbed a chair, and sat himself down right next to Father so he could read at the same time. They were both mesmerized by that one thin newspaper and didn’t even notice when I placed their coffee cups in front of them.

Father and Max finally finished with the newspaper. “After weeks of constant fighting and bombardment, the Polish army units defending Warsaw had no choice but to surrender control of the city to the Germans,” Father said, paraphrasing the news stories. “Sections of the city are burning, but since the Germans destroyed the city’s waterworks, there was no way to extinguish the fires. Warsaw’s drinking water isn’t potable, so residents are being warned to boil all water before use. Beginning today, the remaining one hundred thousand or so Polish soldiers are to be evacuated to German POW camps. It’s estimated that in the past month, more than six hundred thousand Polish troops have been captured by the Germans and Russians, more than sixty thousand Polish soldiers have been killed, and more than one hundred thousand Polish troops escaped to Romania, Latvia, and Lithuania. Several tens of thousands of Polish civilians have also been killed. The entire country was now occupied by either Germany or Russia. Despite this situation, the Polish government-in-exile is refusing to issue a formal surrender.”

“Does that mean the fighting is over?” I asked.

“That’s hard to say,” Father responded. “Even if the actual invasion is finished and head-to-head combat has ended, the killing may not be. Both the Germans and Russians have a history of eliminating all people and organizations that oppose them or will get in the way of their plans for the conquered territories. We’re apparently in the Russian-occupied territory. Some of our older citizens may like to think that this is a known enemy, but Communist Russia is different from Czarist Russia. We’ll have to keep our eyes and ears open.”

I caught a glimpse of the clock. How is it eleven o’clock already? I jumped up from the table and ran into my bedroom, slamming the door behind me. I have to get ready for my date with Peter. As I hurried to dress and fix my hair I hummed my favorite song, trying to put myself in a better mood after the negative news reports. How can I be worried about my date when so many people have been killed? I sat down to take a deep breath and think about this for a moment. Our town, while occupied by the Russians, had been largely untouched by the fighting, especially compared to Warsaw. Do we continue on with our lives and just put them out of our minds? Yes and no, I guess. The Polish government will find a way to build up our military again, and with help from our allies, we’ll evict the Germans and Russians from Poland once and for all. Yes, I nodded to myself. Good attitude.

I finished getting ready. This is my second-favorite dress, dark green with a brown belt. My favorite dress is the light blue one, but I think the green one makes me look more mature. I am sixteen now. It’s time to leave little-girl things in the past. As usual, though, my hair is hopeless, too straight to do much of anything. I found a pretty brown hair clip, pulled back the hair from both sides of my head, and fastened the clip on the back of my head, leaving a wisp of a bang. It’ll have to do. Grandma Em gave me some pretty emerald earrings for my thirteenth birthday that finish off the outfit.

“You look very pretty,” Mother said. Father just nodded and went back to studying his newspaper.

“What’s that on your nose?” Max asked.

“What is it?” I rubbed my nose. “Did I get it off?”

Mother gave Max a little shove. “Don’t listen to him. Your nose is fine.”

I walked over and gave Max more than just a little shove. “I’ll get you for that.”

There was a knock at the door. I smoothed out my dress and walked slowly toward the door, knowing that they were all watching me. A big smile came over my face as I opened the door. “Peter, come in. Meet my parents.” He was also smiling as he removed his hat and entered the apartment.

Max greeted him. “Good to see you, buddy. Right on time. That’s a good start.”

Father walked over to take Peter’s hand. “Peter, nice to meet you. You look familiar. Have we met before?”

“The pleasure’s mine, sir. My father owns the liquor store a few blocks from here. I help out there sometimes on Saturdays. Maybe you saw me there, hauling boxes around.”

“Oh yes, I do know your father. Very nice man. He always has a new joke for me when I stop by.”

“Yes, that’s him. He has an interesting sense of humor. I notice you said ‘new’ joke, not ‘good’ joke. I wonder sometimes if he’s the only one who understands his jokes,” Peter said with a chuckle. My father laughed too.

Peter turned to my mother. “Ma’am, very nice to meet you. Max talks a lot about the wonderful desserts you make.”

“Thank you, Peter. It’s very nice to meet you too. Where are you and Helena going to eat?”

“There’s a little café that Max recommended in a section of the city that the Russians don’t seem to have much interest in. We can’t say that about many places, so I’m hoping it isn’t too crowded.”

“That sounds nice,” Mother said.

I could tell that she was nervous about my going out into the city without Max or Father. Max sensed it, too, so he jumped in.

“Peter knows all of the side streets to get there and back, so they can avoid the areas where the Russians are stationed or patrolling.”

“Well, we should get going,” Peter said. “We might have to wait for a table, and I’d like to finish lunch before it’s time for dinner.” Peter shook hands with my parents again and gave Max a nod. He helped me on with my sweater and escorted me out of the apartment.

“Whew, I’m glad that’s over,” Peter said. “You never know how the first meeting with your date’s parents will go.”

“So you do this often?” I asked.

Peter smiled. “Don’t worry, not that often. You have a very nice family and they obviously care about you a lot. That’s good to have. It’s been just me and my father for as long as I can remember. and he’s very busy with the store.”

“What happened to your mother?”

“When I was five years old, she suffered a miscarriage, twins, and she had an emotional breakdown. I don’t really remember it, but my father told me that after a couple of months, she seemed to be recovering, until one day she swallowed an entire bottle of sleeping pills when she was home alone. I was out of town, staying with my grandparents for the summer. By the time my father got home that day, she was already gone. At the time, my grandparents told me that she had been ill and died peacefully in her sleep. My father buried her before I got home and then threw himself into his work. I don’t really have any memories of her.”

“Oh, my goodness, that’s so sad. My mother had some complications while giving birth to me and she couldn’t have any more children. So I’m stuck with Max,” I joked. “No, I’m just kidding. Max is a good brother. Sometimes he still treats me like a little girl, though.”

“You’re definitely not a little girl.” Peter smiled as he offered me his arm. I couldn’t help but return the smile as I looped my arm through his.

We took turns sharing stories about our lives, school, and interests as we strolled along to the café and all during lunch. The café was crowded but we arrived just as the noon lunch crowd was finishing their meals, and we didn’t have to wait long for a table. There was never a lull in the conversation, and I felt very comfortable sharing personal stories with Peter. He seemed genuinely interested in all of them. He talked about the summers he spent with his grandparents and how he’s wanted to be a trial lawyer from an early age. He told me that he visits his mother’s grave each year on her birthday to update her on his life over the past year.

“I know, talking to a headstone is strange,” he said, “but it’s the only connection I have to her, and it gives me peace. My father never mentions her. With him, it’s all about the store and my education.”

After lunch we began our slow walk home. Peter reached for my hand. After a few moments I heard a sound in the distance. “Was that gunfire?” I asked him.

“That’s what it sounded like, but I think it came from the other side of town, nowhere near us.”

We began to walk a little faster anyway. Those sounds brought me back to the reality of the current situation. For the last couple of hours , I'd completely forgotten about the war. As we arrived at the next cross street, Peter suddenly pulled me back. “Russian troops,” he said.

We stepped back a few feet and sat on the front steps of an apartment building. Peter put his arm around my shoulder and we pretended to be minding our own business until they passed. When I turned to glance at the soldiers marching past, I could feel Peter’s warm breath on the back of my neck. When I turned my head to look at him, he kissed me,  my first real kiss, and I felt a tingle run through my body. Peter obviously had more experience than I did. As he pulled away, he stroked my cheek with the back of his fingers.

“The soldiers are gone now,” he said. “I think I should get you home.”

We held hands and walked in silence. “Thank you for a wonderful afternoon, Peter,” I said as we approached my apartment building.

“It was my pleasure. How about we make Saturday lunch a regular date?”

“I’d like that very much.”

“Good. I’ll talk to you soon.” He gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, made sure I was safely in the building, and walked away. I watched him for a moment and found myself already thinking about seeing him next week.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Just A Wall - Chapter Eight


After the freedom I experienced on Monday spending the day with Max in the city and at his clandestine meeting, the rest of the week proved to be very boring. Father told Mother that she and I shouldn’t leave the building without him or Max. He gets to go out to work. Max sleeps late, eats lunch, and then disappears for the rest of the day. That leaves Mother and me to create ways to make the time pass more quickly. I do want to spend any more time with my school-books because, if classes really do start up again on Monday, I don’t want to be too far behind.

Finally, something exciting happened. Peter called me Thursday afternoon. I answered the phone and Mother kept asking me who I was talking to. “Just a friend from school,” I kept repeating, becoming more annoyed with each inquiry. Peter and I talked for a little while about what we’ve been doing since the invasion, but Mother, even though she pretended to be busy, was listening to the conversation. Peter and I made plans to meet for lunch on Saturday.

Just as I hung up the phone Father came through the door. “Why are you home so early?” Mother asked.

“Turn on the radio,” he replied as he turned it on himself.

The local stations were still only broadcasting sporadically, first under German control and then under Russian control. We’re still receiving a signal from London. Warsaw has fallen! The Polish government-in-exile is expected to surrender. We aren’t completely surprised, but it’s still shocking news.

“What will happen now, Father?” I asked.

“That’s a good question, sweetie,” Father replied, caressing my cheek. “For now, we still have to deal with the occupying Russians. Beyond that, I have no idea.”

Mother is trying to hold back her tears. “Michal, can you take me over to my father’s apartment? I want to make sure he heard the news and that he’s alright.”

“Of course, we’ll go over right now, and then I’ll walk you back home. Helena, will you be okay by yourself for a little while?”

“I’ll be fine. I’ll keep the radio on while you’re gone and give you an update if I hear anything new.”

They grabbed their coats and left. Ah, alone time.

Shortly after my parents left, Max returned home. “Did you hear the news?” he asked.

“Yes, we heard a little while ago. Mother and Father went over to check on Grandpa Nick. What do you think will happen next?”

“There’s no way to know for sure. I was with my friends at the library when our friend Jakov arrived with the news. We were all quiet at first, then we all began speaking at once. The consensus is that Poland would have to deal with being divided and occupied once again, and that we shouldn’t trust that the Germans or the Russians will honor any agreements made between them regarding Poland.”

I nodded and sighed but couldn’t stop myself from asking if Peter was there.

Max smiled. “Yes, Peter was there. He told me that you two have a lunch date planned for Saturday. Did you tell Mother and Father yet?”

“No. Not yet. We had just finished our telephone conversation when Father came rushing in with the news of the surrender. What do you think they’ll say?”

“It’s hard to say with everything else going on. I tease Peter but he’s a good guy. I’ll make sure they know that.”

“Thank you. I’ll try to tell them tonight at dinner.”

We sat together on the sofa, listening to the news. Many Polish soldiers and civilians were killed during the siege at Warsaw, and sections of the city are in ruins. The Germans have also taken a lot of prisoners, but some of the soldiers were able to escape to the east, presumably into Soviet territory. They’ll probably join the Russian army if the Germans and Russians come to blows. We hoped to hear more about what action England and France are taking to come to our aid but nothing was mentioned about it. What good are allies if they don’t have our backs?

Mother walked in. “Oh good, Max, you’re home. I assume you heard the news. Your grandfather is very angry at the entire situation. After twenty years of independence, Poland is once again at the mercy of invaders. We tried to talk him into coming here for dinner, but he said that he had made plans with his neighbor for dinner, cards, and listening to the radio. Maybe the two of you can visit him over the weekend. I know that'll cheer him up.” We both agreed. She said that she needed to go lay down for a little while.

“Max, you mentioned your friend Jakov. Is he a Jew?” I asked.

“Yes, he is. Why?”

“I was just wondering. I noticed at Monday’s meeting that you patted him on the back after the mention of how the Germans were treating the Jews. Was his family affected by the Germans during the time they were here?”

“Most of his family is fine. Now they're living on the other side of town in the Jewish neighborhood. His mother’s brother-in-law owned the liquor store that was vandalized on the town square, and he and his family were evicted from their apartment above the store. They weren’t physically injured, just terrified. Luckily they have family to stay with.”

“I’m still not sure how I feel about the Jews,” I commented. “I don’t know any. Mother has some very strong negative opinions about them, but I don’t know why she feels that way. Father seems to ignore her when she expresses an opinion about them. I’ve been meaning to ask Father about it, but he’s been busy. I just don’t understand why people can’t just get along in spite of their differences.”

“It’s a complicated topic, the mistreatment of Jews throughout history. In my opinion, there is usually a bit of truth to every rumor, but those truths have been exaggerated to the point of instigating hatred and violence. I’ve known Jakov for more than a year now, and he’s an honest, smart, hardworking man. None of the stories that we’ve been told about the Jews seem to apply to him. Proof, I guess, that we shouldn’t make assumptions about any one person without getting to know him or her first.”

Max is right. Maybe if I attend another of Max’s meetings, I can speak with Jakov for a while and get to know him. I still want to speak with Father about Mother’s opinion of the Jews, and I’m also curious about his views on the subject.

Mother came out of her bedroom shortly before Father walked through the front door, almost as if she could sense he was coming home and she needed to get dinner ready. It was a quiet meal. Max kept kicking me under the table, prodding me to bring up the subject of Peter. Finally, I kicked him back hard enough for him to wince and that got the attention of our parents.

“What’s going on with you two?” Mother asked. Max smiled. I guess it was time to tell them.

With a deep breath I said “Mother, Father, I want to let you know that I made a date with Max’s friend, Peter. He’s taking me to lunch on Saturday.”

Father carefully placed his fork on his dinner plate and leaned forward, “A date? Who is this Peter person? You’re too young to date.”

“I am not too young to date,” I exclaimed. “You and Mother told me that I could date when I turned sixteen. Well, I’m sixteen now. Besides, it’s just lunch. We’re not running off to get married.”

“Max, who is Peter and how is it that Helena had the opportunity to meet him?” Father asked.

“Peter is a schoolmate. I met him on my first day at the university. We’ve had a lot of classes together, and we belong to the same study group. On Monday, when Helena and I spent the day visiting people, we stopped by the library at the university. I was curious to see if the study group was still meeting and how everyone was doing. That’s when Helena met Peter. Peter is smart and has a good sense of humor. You’ll like him.”

My parents were both quiet for a moment. Then Mother gave Father a nod. “Well, I’m not sure I like this whole dating thing but I guess you are growing up. I want to meet Peter before you go out with him.”

“You'll meet him. He’s picking me up at noon on Saturday.”

Monday, September 15, 2014

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 6, 1907


Excerpts from the issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle issued on September 6, 1907, the day my paternal grandfather, Aaron Klein (aka Harry, Harvey) and his brother Joseph, were born. They were born in Manhattan, but the family moved to Brooklyn by the 1910 census.




















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WILL POLICE MOROCCO
 
France and Spain to Take Virtual Military Control of the Country
 
Paris, September 6--A most important chance, the Associate Press is informed, has occurred in the political aspect of the Moroccan question, a change which may have a far-reaching effect on the future of Morocco and the relations of the powers thereto. France and Spain have the intention to occupy the Littoral ports of Morocco with their own forces and establish police organizations.. This contemplated action results from the official announcement of the Moroccan government, through the war minister, El Gabas, that it is unable to guarantee the safety of the European instructors of the international police force, which under the terms of the Algeciras Convention, was to the composed of Moors.
The dilemma of France and Spain, who by the terms of the Algeciras Convention are compelled to organize the international police, was submitted to the signatory powers, including the United States, and they all agreed that the situation demanded that France and Spain police Morocco themselves. Although it is distinctly stipulated that such occupation is merely provisional, or until it is safe to recruit the police from among the Moors, there is a strong feeling that the absolute anarchy reigning in Morocco may mean that the occupation of the ports may be long drawn out and perhaps indefinite. Moreover, the occupation of the posts may cause serious complications, resulting from the continued hostility of the fanatical Moors, a hostility which may compel an enlargement of the police action and culminate in a virtual military control of the Moroccan empire. This, however, will depend on the attitude of the Moors.
France has planned to occupy Mazagan, Mogador, Safi and Rabat, and Spain is to occupy El Araish and Tetuan. France and Spain together will occupy Casablanca and Tangier. Arrangements for the policing of these ports are now being made.
An official denial was issued to-day of the statement from Casablanca last night that the French Cruiser Gloire, with three companies of the Foreign Legion on board, had left Casablanca for an unknown destination.
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BRIDGE APPROACH BIDS

Four Received for Queens End of Blackwell Island Span

Bids have been opened by the Bridge Commission for the construction of the Queens approach to the Blackwell's Island Bridge. It is to be of steel and masonry. Four bids were received, the lowest being that of the Maryland Steel Company, which will do the work for $758,600. The other bids were the Buckley Realty Construction Company, $797,804; William Engineering and Contracting Company, $809,345; and the Richard Henningham Company, $914,170.
No award has been made. Whether one will be made or not is doubtful. The city's finances are in bad shape and it is hardly possible that other than absolutely necessary contracts will be entered by any department heads for a time, until Mayor McClellan finds out how the city treasury will be after the bond issue next Tuesday. If that should fail department heads will be kept down to necessities. The bridge was to have been finished by December, 1908.
[Blackwell's Island was later named Welfare Island (1921-1971) and then Roosevelt Island. The name of the bridge was later changed to Queensboro Bridge. Here is a photo of the bridge taken August 8, 1907, 4 weeks before this story was published: http://nycrecords.tumblr.com/post/57702455408/blackwells-island-bridge-ed-koch-queensboro ]
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DUG UP OLD COIN

Thaddeus L Weber, a lad living at 429 Seventy-eighth street, made an interesting find of an old coin the other day in Bay Ridge. He was digging in the earth to pot a plant, when he came across a silver coin about the size of a dime. It was badly rusted, but after cleaning it the piece was found to bear the date of 1783 and this inscription: "Carolus III by the grace of God, 1783." On the other side are the letters "R. M. F." and the Spanish coat of arms.

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CRYSTAL DOMINO SUGAR

A Triumph in Sugar Making

Sold only in 5-lb boxes by all first-class grocers





















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Women suffering from any form of female weakness are invited
to promptly communicate with Mrs. Pinkham, at Lynn, Mass.
Her advice is always free and always helpful.
MEN ADMIRE a pretty face, a good figure, but sooner or later learn that the healthy, happy contented woman is most of all to be admired.
Women troubled with fainting spells, irregularities, nervous irritability, backache, the "blues" and those dreadful dragging sensations, cannot hop to be happy or popular, and advancement in either home , business or social life is impossible.
The cause of these troubles, however, yields quickly to Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound made from native roots and herbs. It acts at once upon the organ afflicted and the nerve centers, dispelling effectually all those distressing symptoms. No other medicine in the country has received such unqualified indorsement [original misspelling] or has such a records of cures of female ills as has
Lydia A. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound




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TRAVEL NOTE

American Tourists in Chili

A cable dispatch was received in New York this morning by Thomas Cook & Son stating that their "Pioneer Party" of American tourists to make the grand tour of South America have reached Antofogasta, Chili, and they were just starting for the climb of the Andes Mountains to Lake Titicaca and La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. The party is all well and in the best of health and spirits. From Peru they proceed to Panama to inspect the canal works.


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BOOKKEEPER and cashier, a young American man;
references required; chance for advancement
to good man



COACHMAN, colored preferred; must be sober, reliable,
willing and understand his business thoroughly.


IN a dental office, a boy, not more than 16 years of age;
must be tidy and honest and live with his parents.












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FIRE LOSS IN AUGUST

Total of $11,435,600, Smallest for Any Month This Year.

The fire loss of the United States and Canada for the month of August, as compiled by the Journal of Commerce, shows a total of $20,248,000.











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NEW DISCOVERIES NEAR THE SITE OF CALVARY
Left: Part of the recently discovered Wall of Constantine, with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in background.
Center: Plan showing the course of the Old Wall and Gateways of Constantine, which once surrounded the Tomb of Christ and Calvary.
Right: Another view of the Wall of Constantine, showing the masonry pillars and one of the portals.


















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Friday, September 12, 2014

Just a Wall - Chapter Seven


The next morning I was awakened by the smell of eggs cooking. My nose led me straight into the kitchen where Father and Max were already at the table. “Good morning, sleepyhead,” Max said with a smile. “I thought I might get to eat your share of the eggs.”

 “There’s no way I'd let that happen,” I replied, poking Max in the arm before I sat down.

“Don’t worry, everyone gets their share,” Mother said as she began dividing up our little feast. “Six eggs split between four people isn’t much, but it’s still a treat.” Mother had scrambled the eggs with a little salt and pepper. Combined with toast and jam and a cup of tea, this is the best breakfast we’ve had in weeks.

After Father finished, he put on his jacket and with briefcase in hand headed toward the door. “Even with the Russians in town, there are numbers that still need to be crunched,” he joked. Accountant humor, not very funny. “Go outside only if you have to, and be careful. We don’t know what the situation is out there yet. It’s probably best to keep away from the town square. Have a good day.” He looked over at Max and added with a smile, “It’s good to have the family together again.” Just before he closed the door, he popped his head back in, “Zofia, you should take down those dark window coverings. It looks like we’re trying to hide something.”

“So Max, why did you leave the farm when you did?” I asked as I helped Mother clear the table.

“Three days ago we began hearing the sounds of an army mobilizing. No artillery or guns, but tanks, trucks, and the sounds cavalry and infantry soldiers make when moving in large numbers. We thought it was strange that the sounds were coming from the east, moving toward us, and that the army didn’t seem rushed. Szaja had a small telescope from his son’s old astronomy kit. I climbed to the top of the silo to get a good look at what was going on, and there they were, the Germans retreating westward. We were cautiously optimistic, wondering if the Polish army had managed to negotiate a peace agreement. There was no news on the radio so that was our best guess. Since it was getting late in the day, I decided to stay one more night to make sure none of us was in danger from the retreating Germans. I helped Szaja with some of the more difficult chores, hoping their sons would be home soon to help their parents.”

“It was very quiet the next morning. I thanked Szaja and Hulke for their kindness, and I promised to try to stop by for a visit as soon as I was able. Hulke gave me a kiss and a hug and handed me the food basket. I decided to follow the tree line along the woods I had come through before in case I needed to take cover, but the day continued to be surprisingly quiet. That’s probably why I was surprised when I first got a glimpse of the Soviet flag flying over our city hall. Night was beginning to fall, so I decided spend the night outside of the city. By yesterday morning, though, there appeared to be Russian patrols along all of the roads leading into the city. I spent most of the day waiting for a chance to slip past them. That’s why I arrived so late in the day.”

“We’re just glad your home,” I said, taking Max’s hand.

“Well, I’m going to wash up and get dressed,” Max said as he stood and stretched. “I need to check and see how my friends are doing, and I want to see how things are at the university.”

“Can I go with you? I want to visit Maria to make sure she’s safe, and I want to walk past my school to see if classes might begin again soon.”

“Sure, I guess that’ll be fine. We can make the rounds and check in on everyone. Come on, let’s both get ready.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Mother said. “I don’t know if I want the two of you roaming around the city when we don’t know what the Russians are up to.”

“We’ll be careful,” Max assured her with that smile she couldn’t say no to. He kissed her on the cheek.

“Well, okay, if you promise to take care of your sister.”

“Mother, I can take care of myself.”

“Don’t worry, little sister. Just hold my hand, and you’ll be fine,” he joked, patting me on the head.

I swatted his hand away. “Let’s just get ready. It’ll be good to get some fresh air, even if I have to spend the day with you.” I punched him in the arm and ran into my bedroom before he could catch me.

I dressed quickly, excited to see Maria. Her house is close to the town square, so I was a little worried. That’s where most of the disturbances have occurred. I already had my jacket and hat on when Max came out from his room. “So I see you turned my room into a warehouse while I was gone.”

“Sorry about that,” Mother said. “We were buying a lot of supplies during that first week you were gone, and that was the only place to store the overflow from the kitchen. While you’re out, I’ll rearrange the boxes so I still know where everything is. Here, take some extra money with you. If any of the shops have reopened, you can use it to buy more food and supplies.” With that she kissed each of us on the cheek. I heard her whisper to Max,” Keep your sister safe.” “Of course I will,” he whispered back.

As we stepped out into the street, I took a long, deep breath. Ah fresh air, with a hint of autumn. Hopefully things will settle down soon, and we won’t have to spend so much time indoors, especially this time of year when the weather is so enjoyable. I took Max’s arm, and we began walking toward the town square. We’re both curious to see what's happening there, but knew that Mother would be very worried if she discovered we had gone there. I was surprised to see a large number of people out and about. No cars, though. Everyone is on foot or bicycle. I was never able to master riding a bicycle on cobblestones. It always made me feel like I was inside a rattle.

We returned the nods and smiles directed toward us and stopped to exchange pleasantries with some neighbors. As we approached the square, I saw Russian soldiers patrolling some of the cross streets. There weren’t any sounds coming from the square that would discourage us from continuing in that direction. I tightened my grip on Max’s arm, and he placed his hand on mine as we got closer. We stopped as it came into view. There’s that Soviet flag atop the city hall that Max had mentioned. The square is crowded with soldiers, horses, tents, trucks, and jeeps. The only locals I see are doing what we’re doing, keeping to the fringes of the square in the hopes of not being noticed. Max observed that there weren’t any tanks.  

"They’re probably positioned outside the city where they can be easily mobilized, if needed,” he said. “Do you know what happened to those shops?” Max asked me about the stores that had been vandalized.

“We heard that the Germans destroyed all of the Jewish-owned businesses located on or near the square,” I replied. “They even evicted the Jewish residents living above the shops so the officers could move in to the apartments. They were evicted in the middle of the night, forced to leave with only what they could carry.”

“Before the invasion we had heard rumors of situations like that happening in Germany and Austria," Max said. "I guess the rumors are true. I know that we Poles have no reason to trust the Russians, but I have to imagine that the Jews would prefer having to deal with the Russians than the Germans. Unfortunately, the Russians don’t care who they harass. Let’s walk off to the left here, and we’ll go over to Maria’s house.”

We turned and hurried along to get off the square, walking past some shops where the owners were trying to clean up the mess from the past three weeks. It doesn’t look like any stores are open yet, at least none directly on the square.  As we turned on to Maria’s street, we noticed some rubble from those first days of the invasion but none of the buildings seem to have suffered major damage. We entered the building and Max released my arm as I made a run for the stairs. I anxiously knocked on the door.

“Helena!” “Maria!” we yelled at the same time, bouncing up and down as we hugged. “It’s so good to see you.” Max made it up the stairs and laughed at us.

Maria’s mother invited us in. Max said that we can only stay a few minutes because we have a lot of other stops to make. They sat in the kitchen exchanging news while Maria and I went into her room.

“Did you see that the school was damaged? I asked. “My father and I stopped by a few days ago. Have you heard anything about when classes might begin? Have you seen Tomas?”

“I haven’t heard about school yet," Maria replied. “Tomas is fine but his family got word that two of his cousins were killed in the fighting.”

“Oh no, that’s terrible. We were so excited that Max was able to get home safely that I forgot about the other soldiers.”

 “One of my father’s three dry-cleaning stores was vandalized so he's there now, cleaning up,” Maria said. “The other two stores should be open today or tomorrow now that the electricity is working again. He plans on approaching the Russians to offer them dry-cleaning services. ‘'They’re here so someone might as well make some money from them,' he said."

Max knocked on the door. “Time to go,” he said. Maria and I hugged. We each promised to call the other one if we heard about school.

Max and I decided to check on my school next since it’s on this side of town. When we arrived, it was obvious that a lot of cleanup had already been done. New windows were leaning against the building ready for installation. I waved at one of my teachers whom I saw just inside the front door. He was putting up a notice: Classes will begin again next Monday.

“That’s good news,” I said. “I look forward to coming back.”

“We’ll see you next week then,” he said with a smile.

We continued along on streets that run parallel to the square. Max has two friends from the university, brothers, who had joined the army with him, and he wanted to see if they’d returned home yet. He introduced himself to their parents.

“We haven’t heard from them yet”, their father said.

Max assured them that the last time he saw them they were both safe. Their mother started crying and hurried back inside the apartment. Their father thanked Max for stopping by.

“I can just imagine what you, Mother, and Father were going through, worrying about me,” Max commented.

I took Max’s arm again. “Father kept telling us not to worry, that you were too smart to get injured or captured,” I said. “He was right.”

We continued toward the university. “I know some people at the university who will have news,” Max said. “They have contacts in the resistance who always seem to know what’s going on. The last time we were all together we agreed that we would try to meet every day on the second floor of the library.”

As we approached the campus Max commented on how empty it looked. The buildings don’t seem to have suffered any damage. It’s a beautiful campus, with its ivy-covered buildings and large trees. I haven’t decided yet if I want to apply here, maybe earn a degree in education. More and more young women are attending college now, but I don’t know if my parents can afford it.

“The library is over that way, at the end of the path,” Max said.

I noticed that he was limping on that bad ankle.

“Are you alright, Max?”

“Oh, my ankle. Yes, I’m fine. I’ll elevate it later when we get home. First things first, checking in with friends and getting information.”

Even for a library, it was quiet as we climbed up to the second floor. So many books! I just wanted to slip off into the corner with a huge stack of history books. At the top of the stairs, we turned left and then headed to the far corner. I thought I heard whispering, but it stopped as we approached. Max peeked around the corner of the last bookshelf, and a huge smile appeared on his face.

“Hello, boys. Good to see you all,” he said as the group stood to welcome him home. Max was as glad to see all of them as they were to see him.

“And who is this lovely young lady?” one of his friends said as he took my hand.

“This is my sister, Helena. Helena, this is trouble, uh, I mean Peter,” Max said with a smile and wink. “You might want to wash that hand if he ever gives it back you.”

Peter is very handsome and I felt my cheeks blush. “It’s very nice to meet you, Peter,” I said bashfully as I tried to take my hand back.

Peter was still staring at me when Max said, “Alright, alright, that’s enough of that. Helena, why don’t you go find a book to read while we talk?”

“No! I’m old enough to hear what’s going on. I’ll just sit over here and listen,” I said as I walked over to an arm chair near the window.

“She has spunk,” Peter said. “I like that.” Max put an arm around Peter’s shoulder and steered him towards the group.

I settled into the arm-chair, but quickly realized that I was too far away from Max and his friends to hear most of what they’re discussing. I was determined to stay anyway. There were a couple of books on a nearby table so I picked one up to read. Shakespeare, great! A writer I always have trouble with. The other books were also by Shakespeare so I’m stuck. Romeo and Juliet seemed like my best option, so I took a shot at reading that again. After a few minutes. I heard footsteps on the staircase and I tried to hide my face behind the book. I peeked over the top and noticed that Max and his friends were signaling to each other to be quiet. My jaw dropped when I saw who was coming.

”Uncle Jozef?”

“Helena? What are you doing here?” Before I could respond, Jozef looked up and saw Max, so he hurried over to welcome him home. I could tell from their gestures that Jozef was angry at Max for bringing me along, but Max told him it was okay as he signaled me to sit down again. This time I decided I wanted to hear what they’re discussing, so I moved the chair closer. “Don’t worry. I’ll be quiet and not repeat what I hear,” I assured them.

Apparently all I had missed before Uncle Jozef arrived was Max telling them about his experiences. Next up was the status of the other members of the group. Several were not in attendance but had been at the meetings last week. Of the six who had gone off to war, Max is the only one who’s returned so far and there was no news about the welfare of the other five.

“Hopefully we’ll hear from them soon,” Max said. Max asked about the university, the professors, and whether classes might begin again.

"The Germans had taken over the campus to use as housing for their troops,” Peter explained. “While doing so, they rounded up all of the professors who were on site that day, put them in trucks, and drove them out of the city. None of them have been heard from since. Their families camped out in front of city hall in an unsuccessful attempt to get information.”

What do the Germans want with the professors? I’ll ask Max later.

“My contacts have heard of Germans closing churches and rounding up, or in some cases killing, the local clergy and nuns in other towns,” Uncle Jozef said. “During the short time the Germans occupied our town, they didn’t have time take any action against the churches. Since the Soviets don’t recognize most organized religion, we’ll have to be alert to any action they might take against the churches.” Everyone nodded.

Jozef sipped his coffee and continued, “During their short occupation of the town, the Germans seemed to be focused on eliminating the local government, silencing the academics, and, just as they’ve done in other countries, isolating the Jews from society.”

Max patted one of his friends on the back.  “Time will tell whether we’re better off with the Soviets occupying the city,” Max said. “They don’t really distinguish between Jews and non-Jews. They dislike everyone who doesn’t agree with their politics.”

Jozef looked at his watch. “I’d better get back to the office. Let’s continue our meetings, but remember to keep a low profile outside of this room. The resistance movement won’t be successful if the Russians know our every move.” He stood to leave. “Max, stop by my office after lunch tomorrow. Since you don’t have any classes, I'm sure I can find some work for you,” Jozef added with a wink.

He turned toward me as he walked away, placing his forefinger to his lips as a reminder to me not to mention the meeting to anyone. I smiled and nodded.

One by one Max’s friends headed toward the stairs, carrying book bags so they looked like students coming to the library to study. Max signaled to me that we should leave. Peter walked out with us.

“So, Max, why did you let me think that your little sister is a little girl?”

“To avoid the exact situation I think we’re about to deal with,” Max said as he put his arm around my shoulder. I rolled my shoulder to break his grip.

“Peter, what are you studying at the university?” I asked, leaning over to see him past Max.

Peter gave Max a push forward so he could step in next to me. “I’m also studying law. I’m not as lucky as Max here is to have an uncle paying his tuition and ready to hire him when he graduates, but I think I’d rather work for the government as a prosecutor. Maybe Max and I will come up against each other in court, and I can teach him what it’s like to beaten by a real lawyer.”

“That’ll never happen,” Max said as he stopped short and we bumped into him. Max is now between us again.

“This is my turnoff,” Peter said. “Helena, would you like to meet for coffee sometime?”

“No,” Max replied. This time I pushed him.

“Yes, Peter, I'd like that very much.”

“Wonderful. I’ll call you later in the week.” He turned off at the corner and waved back.  “Have a nice day.”

“Bye, see you soon.”

Max was standing ahead of me, smiling. “I didn’t know you were old enough to date. I wonder what Mother and Father will say.”

“They won’t say anything until I tell them. You won’t say anything, right?”

“Well, okay I guess,” Max said, presenting his arm for me to take. “Let’s get home. Mother will be wondering where we’ve been all day.”